A Bad Reaction: Sabzy Cafe

Though I do my best to make it back to eateries I’ve written about, sometimes it doesn’t happen until months later, mostly due to timing or geographic location. Sabzy Cafe, a Persian restaurant run by a lovely family I had the privilege of meeting with back in February, was one of those instances. When my sisters and I needed a spot for dinner in the Old Strathcona area to precede our night of fashion, I immediately thought of Sabzy.

We weren’t sure how busy it would be in the evening, so made sure to reserve a table in advance, but it turns out it wasn’t necessary. A few other parties arrived over the course of our stay, but by no means was the restaurant packed. I arrived before my two sisters, and chose the sunny table by the front window.

It’s an oddly designed space, by no fault of the Sabetghadams. With jagged corners and shadowy enclaves, the room can provide diners with a feeling of both privacy and isolation. The multicolored walls, bright with fall shades of deep yellow, purple, and a spring green did help bring some cheer into the cafe, but there was a reason why I was drawn to the windowside table.

Great spot for peoplewatching

Sabzy asserts its casual atmosphere by inviting customers to place their orders with staff at the counter. Though I am not adverse to this (one of my favorite cafes, Leva, is set up this way), the entrée I ordered was definitely priced at an amount where I would expect a different level of service. The kabob platter, with chicken and beef/lamb kabobs was $16.99. My sisters opted for something a bit lighter – the grilled chicken sandwich ($10).

A few minutes later, three glasses and a small jug of water were delivered to us. Our food arrived shortly after – both plates a mirror image of the photos included on the menu. I was happy to find that the meat had been taken off the skewers for me, and that the plate was piled high with a generous serving of full-bodied saffron rice. The chicken kabob was all right (it actually tasted similar to my Mum’s satay), but the lamb really shined – moist, flavourful, and grilled to perfection, I didn’t even miss a potential dipping sauce accompaniment.

Kabob Platter

I loved the mint garnish on the grilled chicken sandwich – a simple but effective way for the kitchen to remind diners of their fresh focus. Amanda found the sandwich good, albeit small (and pricey without an included side dish), but Felicia was left literally with ill feelings. After a single bite, her tongue started to feel fuzzy, and she leapt to ask the staff if the sandwich contained any nuts. Bingo – there were nuts in the pesto spread. The server was actually quite rude to Felicia, as she said this ingredient was listed on the menu – on our double take, we couldn’t locate it at all (ideally, there should be an asterisk next to all items containing the pesto, indicating the nuts used). The kitchen ended up remaking the sandwich, and provided Felicia with a sliced cucumber (which the family’s dad said would help cool the allergic reaction), but she was still itchy and bothered all evening. Needless to say, this left a blemish on our otherwise fair experience.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich

Having interviewed the family behind Sabzy, the fact that they are new to the restaurant industry may have played a part in their mistake, but it is one they will need to rectify straightaway. While I can’t say this situation will prevent me from visiting Sabzy in the future, I can tell you my sister won’t be back anytime soon.

Sabzy Cafe
10416 82 Avenue NW
(780) 758-1005
Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday 11am-9pm, Monday 3-9pm

19 thoughts on “A Bad Reaction: Sabzy Cafe

  1. I’m confused. Is the mistake you are referring to that they did not list pesto under the detail for the sandwich in the menu? Because that would be wrong and should be rectified. Or that they did not list the the specific nut used to make the pesto? As pesto is typically made with nuts.

  2. Sorry I wasn’t clear – the pesto was listed as an ingredient under the sandwich, but the ingredients used in the pesto were not.

    My sisters are both unfamiliar with pesto, and I would imagine many others would be unfamiliar with the components of pesto (and for the record, I didn’t read the rest of the menu – I knew I was having kabobs from the time of my interview).

    For liability purposes (and really, in these times, menus usually have the peanut content bolded and underlined), restaurants usually have “please inform the kitchen of any allergies” at the bottom of the page.

    It’s not something that is difficult to add – I just hope that they do so soon.

  3. Still, I wouldn’t exactly call that a mistake – just an oversight. It’s not necessary to clarify that there are pine nuts in pesto, as a customer is free to ask if they don’t know what pesto is, and they know that they have an allergy. The restaurant does not have to ask customers to inform the kitchen of any allergies for “liability purposes,” as they would not be liable if someone with a nut allergy ordered something with nuts (unless the kitchen had, in fact, been told). The most that I can fault them for is the rudeness.

    That being said, my sister and best friend have severe nut allergies, and it can be more than unpleasant – downright scary, sometimes – when they ingest something with nuts, so I agree that it would be a good idea for them to add something to the menu.

  4. I agree with Rachel. While I am sorry your sister had that reaction, I am surprised she is not more diligent in asking about ingredients, especially at unknown restaurants. Definitely good practice, even with a mild allergy to avoid a ruined day.

  5. It is usually expected at restaurants that patrons will inform the server of any allergies – I see this request posted on menus and at the front of many restaurants. However, the staff should not have been rude.

  6. I’m not so sure this is Felicia’s fault. Maybe she should have asked or informed them about an allergy, but I also think the restaurant should indicate which items contain nuts. For two primary reasons:

    1) Nuts have got to be one of the most common allergies in North America. It’s good practice to be pro-active about it.

    2) What if you don’t know what pesto is? I don’t know what it’s made of, because I’ve never had to make it. It’s sort of like me expecting a non-programmer to know that a .NET program probably contains C#.

  7. When a person with nut allergies goes to a restaurant, their default assumption should be (given the life threatening nature of the allergy and self preserving nature of humans) all food ‘May contain nuts’.

    If I could die because of something I eat, you can be sure I wouldn’t eat anything I’m not familiar with. If I don’t know what pesto is or is made of, I avoid it or ask to make an informed decision.

    0.4-0.6% of populate has peanut or tree nut allergies. While maybe a relatively large number compared to other allergies, I question whether we should start labeling the world to accomodate them.

  8. A quick Google search reveals that the threat of legal action is real and many restaurants have taken steps to avoid it:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1048623/Anger-celebrity-haunt-Indian-restaurant-serves-nut-allergy-disclaimers-meals.html

    http://milwaukee.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2008/08/11/focus5.html

    It seems most legislation is in place for food packages, but similar rules for restaurants can’t be far behind!

    Obviously you need to make the personal effort to ensure you’re not eating anything dangerous, but I don’t think that has to mean that restaurants have zero responsibility to protect or at least inform customers.

  9. The plates, especially the sandwiches, do look a little lonely with out a side. Where are all the lovely vegetables that would fit in nicely!

    “Obviously you need to make the personal effort to ensure you’re not eating anything dangerous, but I don’t think that has to mean that restaurants have zero responsibility to protect or at least inform customers.”

    I agree Mack. While some diners may know a pesto from a gremolata, many still don’t and could use the added insurance from a server or side note on the menu.

  10. As far as the allergies go, most restaurants request that you inform the server of any allergies. I think it’s the individuals’ responsibility to make others aware. I usually ask, as I have a nut allergy.

    But what I would like to know is how the mint flavour suits a grilled chicken sandwich that appears to have parsley or basil sprinkled on top. To me, those flavours are not well matched and a sprig of parsley or basil would be more fitting. Thyme would be really nice too.

  11. I also think it is the responsibility of the individual to check food items if they have an allergy to a food such as nuts. Whatever happened to common sense in this regard. Society has changed lately to blame everyone else for situations instead of the individual person. Not knowing the restaurant or the people, is it possible that it being a Persian restaurant, there was some communication misunderstandings? I, myself, will hopefully visit this establishment in the near future with the Mrs. to check it out.

  12. Foodies, I have to disagree. I can’t believe that the majority of responders seem to believe the establishment has no part in warning the patrons.

    As Mack said, “Nuts have got to be one of the most common allergies in North America. It’s good practice to be pro-active about it.” And I couldn’t agree more. As someone with an allergy that appeared later in life, I can’t have any nuts or peanuts. I’m normally very careful about ordering new things, and asking. However, I’ve had pesto before with no reaction. Perhaps it’s the way this place made it? As someone who isn’t the most food-savvy, I couldn’t tell you what’s in a pesto. (Something green, some kind of oil, and white stuff)

    Jason may: “question whether we should start labeling the world to accomodate them.” And I can understand why someone without an allergy may feel that way. I’m usually fairly easy-going with my allergy, but I don’t have it quite as bad as some people who can’t deal with being at the same table as someone with nuts on their plate. I’m not asking you to label the world… but please note: eating something they believed to be safe could KILL them.

    I’m not in any way blaming the establishment completely… it is up to the person with an allergy to check… but you can’t blame her for not thinking there would be nuts in a sandwich. (That wasn’t peanut butter or served on pecan bread.) I just think it’s the responsible thing for establishments to label on the side of menu items: how spicy the dish is, gluten-free items, and whether it contains nuts.

    That little extra ink on the menu could save a life.

  13. I think the bottom line here is that if you consider your allergy to be a significant issue, you can’t just start making assumptions that things are safe for you.

    Don’t know what pesto is? Fine. But why aren’t you asking if it contains nuts? Not the restaurant’s fault there in my opinion. Now say for example, you order a salad with a familiar dressing only to find after the fact that their special version contained nuts. Then maybe your arguement against the restaurant has a leg to stand on.

    But really, is it the restaurant’s responsibility to disclose all this information without first being asked? Just because 0.4-0.6% of the population (per Jason’s comment) have nut allergies, doesn’t mean the entire restaurant industry has to accomodate them. What about those who are lactose intolerant? Gluten allergy? The list can go on and on. Like Rfl said, we should stop pointing fingers for our mistakes. I’m sorry Sharon’s sister had an allergic reaction, but I bet she’ll be asking servers in the future when she sees something on the menu that she does not recognize.

    The line of thinking that everyone else must take care of us is what starts ridiculous and frivolous lawsuits. I for one don’t want to see good restaurants go down because a small minority are careless when ordering.

    Finally – yes I do have an allergy: Penicillin. And you can bet your ass that it’s the first thing that pops out of my mouth everytime I talk to a doctor. I also keep a note stating my allergy with my ID in case of emergencies.

  14. I had no idea this review would set off a frenzy of comments.

    Jon- I want to be clear I don’t want the restaurant to “go down” because of this review. Having met the family behind Sabzy, I know they have put everything into their business, and I know how important it is for the restaurant to be a success.

    I don’t disagree it is part of the consumer’s responsibility to ask questions, but I think it is a restaurant’s job to make choosing a dish as seamless as possible, which to me means providing some more information about the contents of dishes, particularly when it relates to a very common North American allergen.

  15. Oh sorry Sharon, I didn’t mean to insinuate that anyone wants Sabzy to go down and out of business. I was just talking more big picture. Like if all restaurants were legally required to disclose allergy information and then something got missed by a restaurant and then someone sued them. It’s just my lawsuit-happy society paranoia kicking in 😉

    In the end, I’m just not a fan of legislation when it’s not needed. I know your review didn’t mention anything like that, but I just wanted to make mention as it was where the comments were heading.

  16. Threatening legal action and forcing restaurants to warn customers, perhaps with noble intentions, will backfire in the end, cause you’ll end up with the generic ‘May Contain Nuts’ on every menu, which makes the warning all but useless.

    Packaged foods are manufacture in controlled facilities with well defined and controlled ingredients. Forcing restaurants to do the same would be too much of burden. Unless you go out of your way, almost anything you buy has the generic ‘May Contain Nuts’ warning, and so most restaurants will do the same.

    Yes, some restaurants will take the extra step and better control their ingredients and cater to customers with special needs. But force the restaurants to disclose allergen content, and they’ll likely just choose the generic warning route to cover their ass.

    No I don’t have allergies, but I have friends who do (animal and food). And I often witness them clarify if someones house has pets or if a food contains nuts.

    And nut allergies may be one of the more common allergies (btw, celiac prevalence is about the same), but it’s still <1% of the population. Having to incur additional costs to accommodate such a small group would likely have most restaurants go with a generic warning.

  17. First and foremost, I ate lunch here today and it was amazing. The Ashe Reshteh (not on the menu, I don’t think) was delicious, and the Sabzy Panner appetizer was so simple, but so good. My Jojeh kebab was perhaps the best tasting chicken in a wrap I’ve experienced. The only “down” was that the bread was simple, commercial, pitas. Fresher bread would have elevated lunch into the stratosphere.

    Obviously the horse is quite dead, but I must throw in that I deliberately asked about nut products in the sandwich and was told that it contained nut products and should be avoided. I think personal responsibility is the only think that should be advocated here – if everyone takes responsibility for their own needs, we all end up better off.

    I feel bad about the tone of this blog post. Look at the title – “A bad reaction”. I dislike how it implies setting the responsibility of the proprietor of this small and under appreciated addition to the Whyte culinary scene.

    This restaurant is great. Everyone go try it soon.

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